“When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him. He began teaching them, saying: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matt 5: 1-12.
Jesus is at the beginning of his teaching, preaching, and healing ministry. Last week we heard the story from Saint Matthew’s gospel of how he called out to these fishermen who came to follow him. And now, Jesus begins to unfold the core of his moral teachings to them and those who follow him.
Today, I wish to speak about this gospel passage, and how it affects us as “beginning Christians,” and then mention a new film that may help us to see how our own deeds might reflect the light of Christ.
Over the years, I’ve noticed how this particular passage is so well used for many liturgical events, including All Saints Day, funeral Masses, and weddings.
Now we read this passage in a new light as we travel to Jerusalem with Jesus and his apostles, who face a hostile audience, on Good Friday.
After all, Christians are an Easter people, beginning in the restoration and resurrection of all things; but naturally live in a Good Friday with all things human, sometimes painful, with a death that can be destructive to our moral and eternal lives.
As I may have noted many times before, sometimes this passage is translated “Blessed are the poor, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, etc.”
Another translation has it as “Happy are the poor, happy are those who mourn, happy are the meet, etc. “One translation has it that blessing comes from an inner grace, and the second translation forwards the idea of inner goodness or well-being.”
Most recently, on the occasion of the presidential inauguration of Donald Trump, among the six short prayers or readings, came another translation of this famous passage, and one that I was not familiar with.
The Reverend Samuel Rodrigues from Sacramento read the same text with a new, updated translation, and drawn from the New Living Translation Bible:
God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth.
God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied.
God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
God blesses those whose hearts are pure, for they will see God.
God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called children of God.
God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
And God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers.
For you are the light of the world – like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on its stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.
At the very conclusion of his reading, Rev. Sam Rodriguez skipped one paragraph in Saint Matthew’s text to emphasize the very purpose of Jesus’s teaching that we must be shining examples or a moral force that really matters.
Despite all our misgivings about where our country may be headed these days, with changes to come in health care benefits as well as immigration policy, I believe that personal examples of moral courage still inspire us.
Whether in military service, or service to the community as a Little League coach, or directly lending helping hand to a grandson — you are blessed in God’s eyes; you are the person that makes a difference and teaches by example, and by the light of Christ.
As I may have indicated before, if you can live just one of these beatitudes, and have the courage to bring it into the light of day, well, you’re a saint.
Some people walk in the light of the sun, and yet others must do with only the “Moonlight.” A title of a recent film stars a friend and former student of mine, who was given an extraordinary honor, the Academy Award!
As his college teacher, I taught Mahershala Ali Gilmore, a twenty-year-old, at the time, in my college class.
What a beautiful kind spirit, with good humor, and a broad smile! He was talented in the classroom, on the basketball court, and on the stage as an actor.
This past week, Mahershala was nominated for an Academy Award for “his performance in a supporting role” as Juan in the feature film “Moonlight,” by the director Barry Jenkins.
Marhershala plays the adult role-model for a young boy, whose name is Chiron, but given the nick-name of “Little,” by bullies who taunt him in his South Miami grade school.
Juan tries to help “Little” grow, and in one scene at the beach, Juan teaches him to swim and float in the sea, like baptism, that gives the young boy buoyancy and grace.
Yes, we are good people, but not perfect people, and Juan, for all his goodness, is the very drug dealer selling drugs on the street, and Little’s mom so caught up in her own addiction. This film is about the long-term consequences of hurt, disappointment, and how we have the capacity for forgiveness despite the odds. But it doesn’t come easy for this young man, not at all.
Well, this is a homily and not a film review. This is a primarily adult film, and a very difficult, and perhaps a disturbing film for some viewers.
However, because the movie fills all the boxes for an artistic film of great merit, it is a work of “film art” — where an actor can help us to see our world with “enlightened eyes.” Again these actors become real people on the screen — who are locked in impossible situations in need of redemption and healing. They become agencies for our own actions as followers of Christ.
So back to our gospel, we have a job to do. God blesses the poor of spirit, the humble, the merciful, the pure, the persecuted. Your deeds can be seen and felt in the lives of others who are conflicted, and in need of God’s grace.
Jesus tells us that we have the power to bring the light of Christ, even in the moonlight, that all people might see the color, purpose, high value, and also love in this life, for eternal life.
Our Lady of Refuge, Castroville, CA.
Film Trailer — “Moonlight”